AP FACT CHECK: Trump muddies facts on mail ballots, Harris
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is muddying the facts about mail-in voting and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
Asked to disclaim the racist conspiracy theory that Harris isn’t eligible to serve in the White House because of her immigrant parents, Trump repeatedly demurred and said he knew little about it, even as the false rumors swirled on social media over the past week. Harris unquestionably meets the Constitution’s requirements to be vice president. On Sunday, Trump’s own White House chief of staff acknowledged her eligibility.
Trump also continued to blast mail-in voting as flawed and fraudulent while insisting that absentee mail ballots, especially in states like Florida that he must win in November, are quite fine and safe. There are little differences in security measures between the two.
His weekend claims capped a litany of distortion and falsehoods following Joe Biden’s announcement of Harris as his running mate. He misrepresented Biden’s position on taxes, persisted in minimizing the coronavirus threat and exaggerated his own record on the economy.
A look at the past week’s rhetoric, also covering Social Security and more:
TRUMP: “Absentee is good; mail-in, universal is very, very bad. There’s no way they’re going to get it accurately.” — news conference Saturday.
TRUMP: “The honorable thing to do is drop the Mail-In Scam before it is too late! Absentee Ballots, like they have in Florida, are good!” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: He’s making a false distinction. Mail-in ballots are cast in the same way as absentee mail ballots, with the same level of scrutiny such as signature verification in many states.
In more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, voters have a right to “no excuse” absentee voting. That means they can use mail-in ballots for any reason, regardless of whether a person is out of town or working. In Florida, the Legislature in 2016 voted to change the wording of such balloting from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail” to make clear a voter can cast such ballots if they wish.
More broadly, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.
Only nine states currently have plans for “universal” mail-in voting, where ballots are sent automatically to registered voters. Five of those states relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person.
Blasting mail-in voting, Trump in the past week said he may hold up funding for the U.S. Postal Service to impede those votes across the 50 states.
“Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a ‘tremendous’ potential for fraud,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote recently. “While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.”
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump had requested a Florida absentee mail ballot to vote in November.
TRUMP, asked about social media claims that Harris is not eligible to run for vice president because her parents were immigrants to the U.S.: “I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements. ... I have no idea if that’s right. I would have assumed that the Democrats would have checked that out.” — news conference Thursday.
TRUMP, asked about the subject again: “I have nothing to do with it. I read something about it.“He added: “It’s not something that bothers me. ... It’s not something that we will be pursuing.” Asked point blank if Harris is eligible, Trump replied: “I just told you. I have not got into it in great detail.” — news conference Saturday.
THE FACTS: Harris, a senator from California, is without question eligible.
Harris, 55, was born in Oakland, California, making her a natural-born U.S. citizen and eligible to be president if Biden were unable to serve a full term. Her father, an economist from Jamaica, and her mother, a cancer researcher from India, met at the University of California, Berkeley, as graduate students.
The Constitution requires a vice president to meet the eligibility requirements to be president. That includes being a natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years old and a resident in the U.S. for at least 14 years.
“I can’t believe people are making this idiotic comment,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, told The Associated Press in 2019, when similar false claims emerged about Harris during her presidential run.
“She is a natural born citizen and there is no question about her eligibility to run,” Tribe said.
On Sunday, Meadows said he accepted that Harris is eligible to serve as vice president.
“Sure,” said Meadows, when asked on CNN whether he acknowledges the fact that she meets the constitutional requirements to be president or vice president. “And I think the president spoke to this yesterday. This is not something that we’re going to pursue.”
Harris is the first Black woman and Asian American to compete on a major party’s presidential ticket. Trump in past years indulged in the false conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born abroad. Only after mounting pressure during his 2016 campaign did Trump disavow the claims.
TRUMP: “If Biden would win ... he’s going to double and triple everybody’s taxes.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is exaggerating. Wildly so.
Biden would raise taxes, primarily on the wealthy. But a July estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget finds that the increase is a small fraction of what Trump claimed. The former vice president’s plan would raise “taxes for the top 1 percent of earners by 13 to 18% of after-tax income, while indirectly increasing taxes for most other groups by 0.2 to 0.6%,” the nonpartisan group said.
To put that in perspective, tax collections would increase by $3.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion over the next decade. That is a lot of money. But it’s not a doubling or tripling. The government is on pace to collect $47 trillion over the next decade, so the Biden plan would be roughly be a 7.8% increase in revenues.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN: “Not long ago, Kamala Harris called Joe Biden a racist and asked for an apology she never received.” -- statement Tuesday from Katrina Pierson, Trump 2020 senior adviser.
THE FACTS: She never called Biden a racist.
Pierson appears to be referring to Harris’ remarks during a Democratic primary debate in Miami in June 2019 when the California senator challenged Biden’s record of opposing busing as a way to integrate schools in the 1970s.
Harris prefaced her criticism by telling Biden at that time, “I do not believe you are a racist. I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.”
She then went on: “It was actually hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools,” Harris said. “She was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.”
It was a breakthrough moment for Harris at the candidates’ first debate, stunning Biden, who responded that “he did not praise racists” and provided a hairsplitting defense of his position on busing. But she did not accuse him of being racist.
TRUMP: “The manufacturing sector is booming and the production index is at the highest reading since October of ’18, which was an extraordinary period of time.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: The pandemic crushed U.S. factories and the damage persists. There is no boom.
Even after three months of job gains, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the manufacturing sector has 740,000 fewer jobs than before the outbreak. All the factory hiring gains under Trump have disappeared. There were 257,000 more manufacturing jobs on the day Trump became president than now. More important, the jobs recovery has shown signs of stalling. Just 26,000 factory jobs were added in July, down from 357,000 added jobs in June.
The sector has been recovering. Yet after increases in production in June, the Federal Reserve said U.S. factory output was running 11.1% below pre-pandemic levels. Trump cited one component of an index composed by the Institute for Supply Management that indicates factory production grew in July as well. It was the best reading since August of 2018, not October as claimed by the president. But that same report showed that manufacturers are also cutting back on employment, suggesting that a boom has yet to begin.
TRUMP: “At the end of the year, the assumption that I win, I’m going to terminate the payroll tax ... We’ll be paying into Social Security through the general fund.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Under Trump’s proposal, Social Security would lose its dedicated funding source.
Payroll taxes raise about $1 trillion annually for Social Security, and the president was unconcerned about the loss of those revenues. Trump campaign officials stressed that the general fund consists of assets and liabilities that finance government operations and could do so for Social Security. The general fund is nicknamed “America’s Checkbook” on the Treasury Department’s website.
The risk is that the loss of a dedicated funding source could destabilize an anti-poverty program that provides payments to roughly 65 million Americans. It also could force people to cut back on the spending that drives growth so they can save for their own retirement and health care needs if they believe the government backstop is in jeopardy.
A 12.4% payroll tax split between employers and workers funds Social Security, while a 2.9% payroll tax finances Medicare. The Social Security tax raised roughly $1 trillion last year, according to government figures. Over a 10-year period, Trump’s idea would blow a $13 trillion hole in a U.S. budget that is already laden with rising debt loads.
Trump announced a payroll tax deferral through the end of the year, part of a series of moves to bypass Congress after talks on a broader coronavirus relief bill that has stalled. He says he will make it a permanent tax cut with the help of Congress. Democrats have described that idea as a nonstarter.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday suggested to reporters that Trump misspoke when he said he would eliminate the payroll tax if reelected. She said the president would only push to make the payroll tax deferrals permanent. But Trump clearly said that he would eliminate the payroll tax four times at his Wednesday press briefing and even answered a question about “permanently” rescinding it.
TRUMP, asked how the general fund can sustain the payments: “We’re going to have tremendous growth. ... You will see growth like you have not seen in a long time.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It is highly unlikely that economic growth would be enough to offset the loss of the payroll tax. Trump has a record of making wildly improbable growth projections. He suggested that his 2017 income tax cuts would propel economic growth as high as 6% annually. That never happened. Growth reached 3% in 2018, then slumped to 2.2% and the U.S. economy crumbled into recession this year because of the coronavirus.
TRUMP: “You can’t compare it to 1917. That was incredible. That was — that was the worst ever by far. That was — you look at — they lost possibly 100 million people.” — news conference Saturday.
TRUMP, on COVID-19: “Nobody understood it because nobody has ever seen anything like this. The closest thing is, in 1917, they say — right? The great — the great pandemic certainly was a terrible thing, where they lost, anywhere from 50 to 100 million people. Probably ended the Second World War; all the soldiers were sick.” — news briefing on Aug. 10.
THE FACTS: He got the year wrong for the Spanish flu, as he routinely does, and may have overstated deaths from it. The pandemic spread from early 1918 to late 1920. It killed an estimated 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 of the deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That pandemic did not end World War II, which came two decades later.
TRUMP: “We’re still in the pandemic, which will be going away, as I say, it will be going away. And they scream, how you can you say that? I said, because it’s going to be going away.” — interview Thursday on Fox Business Network.
THE FACTS: No matter how many times he says it, the virus is not going to just magically disappear.
The virus is now blamed for more than 166,000 deaths and more than 5.2 million confirmed infections in the U.S. — easily the highest totals in the world. In the past week, the average number of new cases per day was on the rise in eight states, and deaths per day were climbing in 26, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases official, has warned that increased cases across the South and West in particular put “the entire country at risk.” On Thursday, for instance, the rate of positive virus cases in Texas soared to the highest levels of the pandemic, with nearly 1 in every 4 coronavirus tests coming back positive. Nevada had its biggest daily jump in coronavirus fatalities to date.
In February, Trump asserted coronavirus cases were going “very substantially down, not up,” and said it will be fine because “in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather.”
Fauci says there “certainly” will be coronavirus infections in the fall and winter.
TRUMP, on whether he still thinks kids are essentially immune from COVID-19: “Yeah, I think that, for the most part, they do very well. I mean, they — they don’t get very sick. They don’t catch it easily.” — news briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: They aren’t immune, and he ignores racial disparities among those kids who get infected.
Although it’s true that children are less likely than adults to develop COVID-19, the CDC has nevertheless counted more than 250,000 infections by the virus in Americans younger than 18, or roughly 7% of all cases. Racial disparities in the U.S. outbreak also extend to children, with Hispanic and Black children with COVID-19 more likely to be hospitalized than white kids.
The total number of kids who have been infected but not confirmed is almost certainly far higher than the CDC figures, experts say, because those with mild or no symptoms are less likely to get tested. Trump also glosses over the fact that kids can spread disease without showing symptoms themselves.
The CDC in May also warned doctors to be on the lookout for a rare but life-threatening inflammatory reaction in some children who’ve had the coronavirus. The condition had been reported in more than 100 children in New York, and in some kids in several other states and in Europe, with some deaths.
Two recent government reports laid bare the racial disparities.
One of the CDC reports looked at children with COVID-19 who needed hospitalization. Hispanic children were hospitalized at a rate eight times higher than white kids, and Black children were hospitalized at a rate five times higher, it found.
The second report examined cases of the rare virus-associated syndrome in kids. It found that nearly three-quarters of the children with the syndrome were either Hispanic or Black, well above their representation in the general population.
NEW YORK VOTING
TRUMP: “Ballots are defrauded.” — news conference Saturday.
TRUMP: “You just look at what happened with the Carolyn Maloney race. They should do that race over, by the way. ... When you look at the ballot, the ballots that are missing, and the ballot frauds — nobody knows what’s going on with that race, and yet they declared her a winner.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence of fraud in the Democratic congressional primary in New York City that was won by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Nor did Trump offer any proof of fraud.
New York State decided to allow anyone to vote by mail in the June primary because of the pandemic. More than 400,000 people voted by absentee ballot in New York City, a figure that was 10 times the number of absentee ballots cast in the 2016 primary.
Opening and counting those ballots by elections officials took weeks, leading to a legal dispute over nonfraud issues, such as missing postmarks. Candidates observing the count say that thousands of ballots were disqualified because of technical errors voters wouldn’t have encountered if they had voted in person, like problems with their signature.
New York City’s Board of Elections ultimately certified the results six weeks after the election.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Chicago, and Lauran Neergaard, Aamer Madhani and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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